It was something of a low-key night for the first fifteen half-innings. Cole Hamels did as Cole Hamels does, going seven innings and allowing two runs on three hits, striking out three and walking two. Each team had cobbled together a run in the early innings; Texas converting a leadoff Delino DeShields hit-by-pitch for a run in the first, and the Angels doing the same in the second on a Cron plunking when Elvis Andrus lost the handle on the transfer of what would have been an inning-ending double play.
Texas put a nice crooked number on the board in the third inning. It began when they took a 2-1 lead on a sequence that went single / fielder’s choice / RBI double by Robinson Chirinos / DeShields / Shin-Soo Choo, respectively. Then after a 92mph fastball grazed Elvis Andrus’ arm, Adrian Beltre continued to torment the team that refused to sign him before the 2011 season, hitting a three-run home run to make it 5-1.
Then is settled down and turned into a fairly ho-hum affair for awhile, unless you count the pigeon that ran roughshod through and around the infield, refusing multiple kind requests to leave. Not even a close call on a Rougned Odor groundout could convince the sky rat to take leave of the infield dirt until finally a combination of umpires, field staff, and players corralled it near the visiting dugout, where Jeff Banister calmly emerged and, showing not a whit of trepidation over beak, talons, or disease, removed the audacious interloper from the field of play.
The Angels picked up a run in the sixth after a leadoff walk by Mike Trout. With a 2-0 count to Albert Pujols, Hamels had Trout picked off, but he broke for second, and Mike Napoli ...lost the handle on the transfer of what would have been scored a caught-stealing. Instead, it was a stolen base, and Trout would later score on a C.J. Cron fielder’s choice. It was 5-2. (Later that inning, Ryan Rua, too, would lose the handle on a transfer - it was initially ruled to be an error, but replay review showed that the catch was made.)
Everything remained intact and calm until the bottom of the eighth. With Banister wanting to keep his ace fresh down the stretch, and with Hamels at 92 pitches, the manager opted to call on his depleted bullpen. Jose Leclerc entered the game and proceeded to walk three of the five batters he faced. After his 29th and final pitch, it was Claudio time. He retired Jefry Marte on a grounder to shortstop to keep the score right where it was.
But in the ninth, after Jesse Chavez had struck out Rua, Chirinos, and DeShields (all looking), the real drama began:
Kole Calhoun worked a nine-pitch leadoff walk, drawing an emotional slap of the mitt from Claudio. Then Martin Maldonado slapped an opposite-field single to bring up pinch-hitter Ben Revere as the tying run. Revere struck out on a slider well out of the zone, but Cameron Maybin’s slow grounder to third gave both runners a chance to move up 90 feet. With two outs and two in scoring position, Banister had a decision to make: walk Trout (who was 2-for-2 in his career against Claudio) and face Pujols as the winning run, or let Claudio pitch to the MVP.
He chose the latter.
Make it 3-for-3.
Trout’s single to right field brought in the Angels’ third run of the game. Maybin, who appeared to have time to score, opted to stay at third. Pujols would bat as the potential winning run after all.
But Claudio, the league’s most unlikely closer, made of pure moxy and guile, breathed deep of the Anaheim air and exhaled an ice-cold mist of calm. Ball one and then ball two. Pujols did not chase the sinker, nor did he chase the changeup. Claudio would have to come into the zone, and so he did: a called first strike with an 87mph sinker.
Adrian Beltre is not the only Ranger to have been rebuffed by the Angels. Claudio’s fourth pitch, an 88mph sinker down the inside half of the plate and waist-high, would find its resting place in the glove of Mike Napoli by way of an inside-out bouncer that left Pujols’ bat at 95mph. Napoli pounced on it and slowly took the two steps to first base to put an end to the game and the heart palpitations that besieged everyone.
Everyone, perhaps, but Alex Claudio.
The Angels no longer inhabit the second Wild Card spot. That now belongs to the Minnesota Twins, who split a doubleheader with the White Sox today. They are a half-game out. The Rangers, with the win, are two games out, and have also climbed back to .500 for the third time in five games. They’ll try to crack that glass ceiling tomorrow, as Tyson Ross faces Ricky Nolasco.